book: The Moon-Spinners (1962) by Mary Stewart


I read a few of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspensers back in the day (for some reason I was less entranced by her Arthurian series), but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t one of them. I did watch the 1964 movie, although all I can now remember of it is the windmill and (of course) Our ‘Ayley. When I saw a copy of the 1963 US edition of the novel (I think it’s a bookclub reprint) at a library sale recently I couldn’t resist grabbing it for nostalgic reasons.

And, golly, am I glad I did so! There’s nothing like a good adventure tale well told. Stewart picked me up on page 1 and the next thing I knew Continue reading


o/t: leisure reading during October

A reasonable haul of books read this month, one or two of them memorably good and none of them stinkers. The links are as usual to my Goodreads notes.


book: Calling Mr. King (2011) by Ronald De Feo


You’ve all read the novel or seen the movie about the hitman who has a midlife crisis and wants to pack the job in and retire, only he knows that in his chosen profession the only retirement plan is the permanent one — right?

Well, this is that novel, again. Or, more accurately, it’s not. That’s the premise it starts off with, but author Ronald De Feo, formerly a senior editor at ARTNews Magazine and MOMA employee, takes the basic premise and does something a bit different with it: he makes out of it a novel about architectural history. I’m not sure the experiment actually works, but I certainly respect him for trying it and by and large I enjoyed the outcome.

Our unnamed hitman — his bosses call him “Mr. King” when they contact him about each new job — is regarded as a man at the top of his game: fearless and absolutely reliable. Yet recently Continue reading

snapshot: The Pigeon (1962 TVM)

US / 50 minutes / bw / Hubbell Robinson, NBC Dir: Don Weis Pr: Boris D. Kaplan Scr: Rik Vollaerts, Raphael Hayes Story: Rik Vollaerts, based on characters created by Ed McBain Cine: John F. Warren Cast: Robert Lansing, Ron Harper, Norman Fell, Gregory Walcott, Peter Falk, Roxane Berard, Frank Sutton, Morgan Woodward, Arthur Batanides, Harlan Warde, Nora Marlowe, Marjorie Bennett, Louise Lorimer, E.J. André, Richard Deacon, Harry Swoger.

Can a polygraph tell if someone’s lying if they’ve been hypnotized into making a false confession?

Gangster Tully Borgman (Sutton) hypnotizes sucker Greg Brovane (Falk) into believing that he was part of a supermarket robbery that left two guards dead, and feeds him with the names and descriptions of three invented confederates, then calls Steve Carella (Lansing) of the 87th Precinct with an anonymous tipoff.

Peter Falk as Greg Brovane.

Roxane Berard as Peggy Brovane.

As Tully tells his criminal buddies,

“The best part of the whole thing is the cops are looking for three guys that don’t even exist.”

Under questioning by Carella and Meyer Meyer (Fell), Brovane insists that what he’s telling them is the truth, and a polygraph test run by Continue reading

book: The Night is a Time for Listening (1966) by Elliot West

book cover of The Night Is a Time for Listening

West Berlin, not so long after the cessation of World War Two’s hostilities. US journalist Marco “Darsoss” Darsossakis is here because the one thing that keeps him living from day to day is the prospect of murdering Otto Vorst, the Nazi officer who gleefully waterboarded Darsoss’s beloved wife Anne to death. At last Darsoss has tracked down Vorst to the city, only to learn that the man has been safely secreted by the Russians far behind their own lines. If Darsoss is to have any chance of getting his hands on Vorst, he’s going to have to do a deal with the Russian security service, the MGB. Meeting him clandestinely, the MGB’s officers tell him they’re amenable to the idea, so long as Darsoss is willing to do them a “small service.”

So over to London Darsoss goes, Continue reading

book: The Red Notebook (2014; trans 2015 Emily Boyce) by Antoine Laurain


It’s not often that I agree with anything the Daily Torygraph says, but the quote from that newspaper’s review on the front cover of The Red Notebook more or less says it all: “A gem.”[*] I couldn’t help thinking, as I read this short novel, that this is what I’d hoped Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop would be like.

Late one night in Paris, craft gilder Laure Valadier is mugged as she returns to her apartment, and her chic handbag (purse) is stolen. The next day divorced local bookseller Laurent Letellier discovers the bag and, planning to return it to its rightful owner, rummages through the contents. But the credit cards are gone along with the cash, of course, and so is anything else that might reveal the identity of the bag’s owner.

What he does find, among much clutter, are her key ring (which will prove crucial to the search in a delightfully clever way, although he doesn’t yet know it), a paperback signed “To Laure” by the author, and her commonplace book — the red notebook of the title (although Laurent’s bookstore is also called The Red Notebook — Le Cahier Rouge — so the title’s doing double duty). Reading somewhat guiltily through the notebook, Laurent realizes he’s beginning to fall in love with the mystery woman — or at least with his conception of her. But how can he find her with such a paucity of clues?

Laurent’s task is actually trickier than he knows, because right now Laure’s lying in the hospital in a coma . . .

That’s the premise. The tale takes quite a few twists and turns, with Continue reading

Slander House (1938)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Progressive Dir: Charles Lamont Pr: B.N. Judell Scr: Gertrude Orr, John W. Krafft Story: Scandal House (1933) by Madeline Woods Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Adrianne Ames (i.e., Adrienne Ames), Craig Reynolds, Esther Ralston, George Meeker, Pert Kelton, William Newell, Dorothy Vaughn, Edward Keane, Vivien Oakland, Ruth Gillette, Mary Field, Robert Homans, Blanche Payson.

Once upon a tine she was plain Helen Smith from NYC’s 10th Avenue, but now she’s Madame Helene (Ames), proprietrix of the swanky Helene’s Rejuvenating Salon on Park Avenue. She’s comfortably engaged to prominent society physician Herbert Stallings (Meeker), and she looks set to ascend to the ranks of the glitterati.

But then fast-talking cad-about-town Pat Fenton (Reynolds) walks into her salon and her life, and from there on things can never be the same for her.

Adrienne Ames as Madame Helene.

Progressive Pictures was a Poverty Row studio whose business model was to release B-features with salacious titles yet relatively innocuous contents. This one’s not just SFW but safe for screening to the average pre-school group, although they might find it a trifle boring. (Except for the bit with the monkey. The bit with the monkey is more or less guaranteed to set pre-school kids and Three Stooges fans a-chuckle.) A slight puzzle here is that Continue reading

book: The Watcher in the Wall (2016) by Owen Laukkanen


Sometimes all you want out of a thriller is a helluva good fast-reading dose of excitement, and that’s exactly what Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall sets out to do.

And does.

With lots of short chapters (141, to be precise), usually just a page or two long, in the James Patterson mode.

And short paragraphs.

With short sentences in the short paragraphs.

In the short chapters.

I’m not actually sneering at this: I’m admiring Laukkanen for the sheer skill of his storytelling. Yes, he Continue reading

book: If You Knew Her (2018) by Emily Elgar


Having been knocked down in a hit-and-run car accident on New Year’s Eve, Cassie Jensen arrives in a coma at an intensive care unit somewhere near Brighton in the south of England. One of the nurses on the ward, Alice Marlowe, takes a special interest in the new arrival, as does Frank, a middle-aged patient whom everyone but Alice believes is in a persistent vegetable state, although in fact he’s suffering from locked-in syndrome and can see and hear everything that’s going on.

Frank’s the first to realize that Continue reading

reblog: Raymond Chandler’s Secret Cameo

***A fascinating factoid (complete with relevant movie clip) from Kevin Burton Smith at the ever-informative New Thrilling Detective Web Site!

The New Thrilling Detective Web Site

Believe it or not, Raymond Chandler actually makes a cameo in the 1944 film, Double Indemnity. About sixteen minutes in, there’s the man himself, sitting on a chair outside claim manager Barton Keyes’ office as Neff (Fred MacMurray) walks by. Chandler is reading a paperback — possibly one of his own?

Double Indemnity, of course, was one of the classics of film noir, based on James M. Cain’s 1936 novel of the same name, itself a classic. The film version was directed by Billy Wilder, and the screenplay was by Chandler and Wilder, and starred Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson.


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